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Professors accused of discrimination featured on conservative watchlist

December 14, 2016

A report published recently by Inside Higher Ed discussed a new website that’s come into the spotlight. The website is called “Professor Watchlist,” on which three UW System employees have been featured.

The website was started by Turning Point USA, an alt-right student group founded in 2012 by Charlie Kirk, a rising young Republican. The site homepage is a list of academic employee names that can be sorted either by name or by school. Their mission, as taken from the website, is to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”

Two UW classroom employees are on the list of over 100 throughout the nation. One, Gregory Jay of UW-Milwaukee, was criticized for saying “abolish whiteness,” according to Red Alert Politics, a right wing online news outlet.

Another employee, Stephanie Baran, a teacher’s assistant at UWM, is accused of being a “vulgar Marxist” and for speaking to students about what she calls the racism in capitalism.

Another professor, Dr. Beth Lueck of UW-Whitewater, is accused of giving extra credit to students for attending an anti-Scott Walker rally.

Lueck, however, defended herself to the Janesville Gazette, outside of Whitewater.

To the Gazette in an email, Lueck wrote, “The same groups creating these lists are the same ones deriding students for asking for safe spaces.”

She went on to write, “Either you endorse freedom for professors to encourage civic engagement among their students and freedome of speech for those same students– left wing, right wing and everywhere in between– need to be coddled and kept ignorant of the outside world.”

Although no UW-River Falls professors have been featured on the list yet, Political Science Professor Neil Kraus says similar things have popped up before, but not to this extent.

“I know that there’s been talk for a long time about this kinda thing,” he said, “but it’s getting a little more organized. And it could chill speech in a lot of different ways. It’s an obvious attempt to intimidate.”

He went on to say, “I think however, the accusation that people are grading or evaluating students on ideology, that’s a serious charge to make. That’s a huge deal, and a student better have data or something to back that sort of claim up. That’s very different than saying you don’t like a professor because they said something negative about Trump, but if you take the next step and say you’re being somehow persecuted, that’s a huge deal.”

Kraus said that he thinks such things could definitely have a chilling effect on how professors discuss current events in their classrooms.

“That’s definitely a problem, and for many reasons,” Kraus said. “A college classroom, the campus in general, is supposed to be one of the places in society that rewards you, or at least doesn’t punish you, for taking positions. Faculty is supposed to teach students how to think and reason and do all those things. Making students reflect on their own views, encouraging that, is part of the process. And to the extent that anyone is afraid to say something of substance, it changes the whole classroom dynamic, for the worse. Learning becomes kind of he said, she said.”

He added, though, that conservatives need not be too threatened by liberal college professors, as there are tendencies in all directions across society.

“It’s also no secret that most of the people who run large corporations, the military and most police agencies and large religious congregations and banks, those entities tend to be conservative,” he said. “So if you want to pit the sociology department of a UW school against the Pentagon and say those things are equivalent, go for it. There’s tendencies across society, and it’s different department to department. There’s always that dynamic, but it really doesn’t, and shouldn’t, pose problems.”

This holds true for UWRF. Justin Shackleton, a conservative senior, said that he hasn’t ever felt persecuted by liberals on this campus.

“I haven’t found that to be a problem on this campus in particular,” the history major said. “I know that my brother and sister go to other colleges and have found that to be so, but not here. It seems to be pretty balanced.”

He also said that he appreciates that UWRF students seem to be respectful of differing opinions.

“I’d say the political climate here is pretty fair. I would say it’s a more liberal, democratic direction, but that doesn’t bother me. I’ve never found people to be acrimonious towards me. It’s pretty good here, actually.”